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See terms - opens in a new window or tab. Back to home page. Listed in category:. Email to friends Share on Facebook - opens in a new window or tab Share on Twitter - opens in a new window or tab Share on Pinterest - opens in a new window or tab Add to Watchlist. Where two years ago Ajax was implemented rather dubiously, without any form of standard and certainly there were very few sites that built their core around Ajax completely , Ajax is now seemingly as commonplace as the rollover. Entire web applications are arising out of nowhere, completely based upon Ajax functionality.

Not only are they rather ingenious uses of the technology, they are leading the web industry into a new age whereby the standard web browser can become so much more; it can even rival the desktop application now. Take, for instance, Flickr www. On their surface, both offer services that are really nothing new.

After all, how many online photo albums and web mail services are out there?

Why then have these two appli- cations garnered so much press and publicity, particularly in the online community? I believe the reason for the new popularity of Ajax-based applications is not that the functionality contained within is anything new or astounding; it is merely the fact that the way the information and functionality is presented to us is done in a very efficient and ergonomic manner something that, up until now, has been largely absent within Internet applications.

Web sites such as Flickr and Gmail have created rich Ajax applications. Now, not every- one agrees that Ajax is the proper term for what it represents, but even those who are critical of the term cannot help but understand the implications it stands for and the widespread fame that the technology has received, partly as a result of its new moniker. Basically, what Ajax does is make use of the JavaScript-based XMLHttpRequest object to fire requests to the web server asynchronously—or without having to refresh the page. While it certainly can return XML, it can also return just about anything you tell your scripting language to return.

Figure The general way of handling such an application would be to fill out the form, press the submit button, and then wait for the response to come back. From there, you could redo the entire thing, testing with new financial figures. You could then change values in the formula and immediately see the differences. Interestingly, new ergonomic changes can now occur as well. You could use Ajax to make a call to the server every time you finished entering a field, and the number would adjust itself immediately.

Ergonomic features such as this are just now becoming mainstream. Is Ajax Technology New? To call Ajax a new technology in front of savvy web developers will guarantee an earful of ranting. Ajax is not a new technology—in fact, Ajax is not even really a technology at all. Ajax is merely a term to describe the process of using the JavaScript-based XMLHttpRequest object to retrieve information from a web server in a dynamic manner asynchronously. Long before the browser you are likely using right now was developed, it was quite possible to make use of JavaScript to handle your server-side requests instantaneously from a client-side point of view.

However, if we are talking about the widespread use of Ajax as a concept not a tech- nology , then yes, it is quite a new revelation in the Internet community. Web developers of all kinds have finally started coming around to the fact that not all requests to the server have to be done in the same way. In some respects, Ajax has opened the minds of millions of web developers who were simply too caught up in convention to see beyond the borders of what is possible. Please do not consider me a pioneer in this respect either; I was one of them.

It is hard to say exactly why it caught fire in the first place, or who is to really be credited for igniting the fire under its widespread fame. Many developers will argue over Gmail and its widespread availability, or Jesse James Garrett for coining the term and subsequently giving people something to call the concept; but the true success of Ajax, I believe, lies more in the developers than in those who are using it. Consider industries such as accounting. For years, accountants used paper spread- sheets and old-fashioned mathematics to organize highly complex financials. Then, with the advent of computers, things changed.

A new way of deploying their services suddenly existed and the industry ceased to remain the way it once was. Sure, standards from the old way still hold true to this day, but so much more has been added, and new ways of doing business have been created. Ajax has created something like this for Internet software and web site developers. Conventions that were always in place still remain, but now we have a new way to deploy functionality and present information. It is a new tool that we can use to do business with and refine our trade.

New methodologies are now in place to deploy that which, up until very recently, seemed quite out of our grasp as developers. That being said, most peo- ple do allow their browsers to use JavaScript, and it is not really that much of a security issue to have it in place.

It must be noted, however, that the user does have the ability to. Ajax is a fairly widely supported concept across browsers, and can be invoked on Firefox all available versions , Internet Explorer 4. Therefore, most browsers across the widely used gamut have a means for handling Ajax and its respective technologies. For a more complete listing on handling cross-browser Ajax, have a look at Chapter At this point, the only real requirement for making use of Ajax in an efficient and pro- ductive manner is the creativity of going against what the standard has been telling us for years, and creating something truly revolutionary and functional.

Summary You should now have a much better understanding of where this upstart new technology has come from and where it intends to go in the future. Those web developers out there who are reading this and have not experimented yet with Ajax should be salivating to see what can be done. The first time I was introduced to the concept of running server requests without having to refresh the page, I merely stood there in awe for a few minutes running through all of the amazing ideas I could now implement. I stood dumbfounded in the face of all of the conventions this technology broke down.

Ready for more yet? The truth is, however, that beginning your experimentation with the technology could not be simpler. The structure of an Ajax-based server request is quite easy to understand and invoke. You must simply create an object of the XMLHttpRequest type, validate that it has been created successfully, point where it will go and where the result will be displayed, and then send it. The fact that Ajax is rather simple to implement from a development point of view is merely icing on a very fine cake. It allows developers to stop worrying about making the code work, and instead concentrate on imagining what might be possible when putting the concept to work.

While Ajax can be used for very simple purposes such as loading HTML pages or per- forming mundane tasks such as form validation, its power becomes apparent when used in conjunction with a powerful server-side scripting language. When mixing a client- side interactive concept such as Ajax with a server-side powerhouse such as PHP, amazing applications can be born. In order to begin making use of Ajax and PHP to create web applications, you must first gain a firm understanding of the basics. It should be noted that Ajax is a JavaScript tool, and so learning the basics of JavaScript will be quite important when attempting to understand Ajax-type applications.

HTTP Request and Response Fundamentals In order to understand exactly how Ajax concepts are put together, it is important to know how a web site processes a request and receives a response from a web server. The current standard that browsers use to acquire information from a web server is the HTTP This is the means a web browser uses to send out a request from a web site and then receive a response from the web server that is currently in charge of returning the response.

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HTTP requests work somewhat like e-mail. That is to say that when a request is sent, certain headers are passed along that allow the web server to know exactly what it is to be serving and how to handle the request. While most headers are optional, there is one header that is absolutely required provided you want more than just the default page on the server : the host header.

This header is crucial in that it lets the server know what to serve up. Once a request has been received, the server then decides what response to return.

1: How to Get Started With AJAX - AJAX Tutorial For Beginners - Learn AJAX - PHP - JavaScript

There are many different response codes. Table has a listing of some of the most common ones. Table It should be noted that there are various forms of request methods available. It is actually quite similar, but operates in the background without the prerequisite page refresh. In order to make a request to the server through Ajax, an object must be created that can be used for different forms of function- ality.

It should be noted that the XMLHttpRequest object is both instantiated and handled a tad differently across the browser gamut. Of particular note is that Microsoft Internet Explorer creates the object as an ActiveX control, whereas browsers such as Firefox and Safari use a basic JavaScript object. This is rather crucial in running cross-browser code as it is imperative to be able to run Ajax in any type of browser configuration.

These methods are expanded upon in further detail in Table Depending on how you want to use the object, different methods may become more important than others. This function can be handy if you are concerned about the length of the connection. If you only want a request to fire for a certain length of time, you can call the abort method to stop the request prematurely. This method can be useful to retrieve one part of the generally large string obtained from a set of headers. For example, to retrieve the size of the document requested, you could simply call getResponseHeader 'Content-Length'.

This is the method you use to open a connection to a particular file on the server. Keep in mind that not all of the arguments in this function are required and can be customized depending on the situation. An important note is that this method may only be invoked after the open method has been used, and must be used before the send function is called.

If the request was sent asynchronously, the response will come back immediately; if not, it will come back after the response is received. You can optionally specify an input string as an argument, which is helpful for processing forms, as it allows you to pass the values of form elements.

XMLHttpRequest Properties Of course, any object has a complete set of properties that can be used and manipulated in order for it work to its fullest. It is important to take note of these properties—you will be making use of them as you move into the more advanced functionality of the object. XMLHttpRequest Object Properties Property Description onreadystatechange Used as an event handler for events that trigger upon state changes readyState Contains the current state of the object 0: uninitialized, 1: loading, 2: loaded, 3: interactive, 4: complete responseText Returns the response in string format responseXML Returns the response in proper XML format status Returns the status of the request in numerical format regular page errors are returned, such as the number , which refers to a not found error statusText Returns the status of the request, but in string format e.

For example, if you have a function that handles some form of initialization, you could get the main set of functionality you want to fire as soon as the state changes to the complete state.


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This is a highly useful property for exception handling, and can be important when deciding when to perform certain actions. You can use this property to create individual actions based upon how far along the request is. For example, you could have a set of code execute when readyState is loading, or stop executing when readyState is complete.


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If you are firing a request to a script of some sort, the output of the script will be returned through this property. With that in mind, most scripts will make use of this property by dumping it into an innerHTML property of an element, thereby asynchronously loading a script or document into a page element. For instance, if the file requested could not be found, the status will be set to because the file could not be found.

Where the status property might be set to , the statusText would return Not Found.

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By using both the status and statusText properties together, you can give your user more in-depth knowl- edge of what has occurred. After all, not many users understand the significance of the number Therefore, it is as important as ever to make sure your Ajax applications are cross- browser compatible.

One of the most important aspects of the Ajax functionality is that it can be deployed across browsers rather seamlessly, with only a small amount of work required to make it function across most browsers the exception being rather old ver- sions of the current browsers. Figure shows the difference between the Internet Explorer and non—Internet Explorer outcomes. This script lets you know which browser you are currently using to perform an Ajax-based request. Microsoft becomes a little more complicated in this respect than most other browsers, forcing you to check on which version of Internet Explorer and, subsequently, JavaScript the current user is running.

The flow of this particular code sample is quite simple. Basically, it checks whether the user is using a newer version of Internet Explorer by attempting to create the ActiveX Object ; if not, the script will default to the older ActiveX Object. Now, it is important to keep in mind that this method of initiating an XMLHttpRequest object is not the only way to do so.

The following code snippet will do largely the same thing, but is quite a bit simpler:. Unfortunately, while it does the job, I feel it is less thorough, and since you are going to be making use of some object-oriented technologies, it makes sense to use the first example for your coding. A large part of using Ajax is making sure you take care of as many cases as possible.

Sending a Request to the Server Now that you have your shiny, new XMLHttpRequest object ready for use, the natural next step is to use it to submit a request to the server. This can be done in a number of ways, but the key aspect to remember is that you must validate for a proper response, and you must decide whether to use the GET or POST method to do so. It should be noted that if you are using Ajax to retrieve information from the server, the GET method is likely the way to go.

If you are sending information to the server, POST is the best way to handle this. In order to make a request to the server, you need to confirm a few basic functionality- based questions. First off, you need to decide what page or script you want to connect to, and then what area to load the page or script into.

Consider the following function, which receives as arguments the page or script that you want to load and the div or other object that you want to load the content into. It then attempts to open a connection to the server page using the open method of the XMLHttpRequest object. If the readyState property returns a 4 complete code and the status property returns a OK code, then you can load the response from the requested page or script into the innerHTML element of the passed-in object after you send the request. Basically, what is accomplished here is a means to create a new XMLHttpRequest object and then use it to fire a script or page and load it into the appropriate element on the page.

Now you can begin thinking of new and exciting ways to use this extremely simple concept. Basic Ajax Example As Ajax becomes an increasingly widely used and available technique, one of the more common uses for it is navigation. It is a rather straightforward process to dynamically load content into a page via the Ajax method. However, since Ajax loads in the content exactly where you ask it to, without refreshing the page, it is important to note exactly where you are loading content.

With Ajax, however, if you scroll down on a page and dynamically load content in with Ajax, it will not move you back to the top of the page. The page will sit exactly where it is and load the content in without much notification. Therefore, if Ajax is to be used as a navigational tool, it is important to note that not all page layouts will react well to such functionality.

In my experience, pages that rely upon navigational menus on the top of the screen rather than at the bottom, in the content, or on the sides and then load in content below it seem to function the best, as content is quite visible and obvious to the user. Consider the following example, which shows a generic web page that loads in con- tent via Ajax to display different information based on the link that has been clicked.

You can call the makerequest function on any event you are using onclick here to load content into the respective object that is passed to the function. An Ajax-based application in full effect. Note the address bar, which shows whether you have refreshed the page as you navigate. Because the design wrapper only needs to be created once and content can be loaded on the fly , users will find less lag when viewing the web site, and have a seamless page in front of them at all times.

Using the Ajax method allows the content being retrieved from the server to be loaded with little to no obtrusive maneuvering of the web page that the user is viewing. Summary To summarize, Ajax can efficiently produce seamless requests to the server while retriev- ing and manipulating both external scripts and internal content on the fly.

It is quite simple to set up, very easy to maintain, and quite portable across platforms. With the right amount of exception handling, you can ensure that most of your site users will see and experience your web site or application exactly as you had envisioned it.

You are well on our way to integrating the concept of Ajax into robust PHP applica- tions. Not that there is anything truly wrong with that, but the real power lies in joining the client-side functionality of JavaScript with the server-side processing of the PHP language using the concept of Ajax. Throughout this chapter, I will run through some examples of how PHP and Ajax can be used together to design some basic tools that are quite new to Internet applications but have been accessible to desktop applications for ages.

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The ability to make a call to the server without a page refresh is one that is quite powerful, if harnessed correctly. With the help of the powerful PHP server-side language, you can create some handy little applica- tions that can be easily integrated into any web project. Why PHP and Ajax? NET, ColdFusion, etc.